Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 17th 2019


Pensacola’s Brewing Scene

By Jeremy Morrison

Sitting in his taproom on a recent Sunday afternoon, Perfect Plain Brewing Co. co-founder Reed Odeneal took a sip of his beer and considered for a moment the proliferation of breweries in the Pensacola area.

“People are asking for it,” Odeneal smiled.

Prior to Perfect Plain opening its doors downtown on Garden Street a few years ago, there were already a few breweries in the area. Since then, numerous more have launched, and there are more still to come.

“We’re looking at 15 this time next year and maybe more,” said Jim Martin, treasurer of the Escambia Bay Homebrewers Club (EBHC).

Rather than viewing his brewery brethren as competition, Odeneal is glad Pensacola’s brewery scene is expanding.

“All of us want even more breweries. That’s going to get even more people excited about craft beer,” he said, explaining how each brewery offers something unique. “Everybody’s going to do it a little bit different. That’s the exciting thing about beer.”

Pensacola’s burgeoning brewery scene is hardly an anomaly. Places around the country are experiencing a brewery renaissance of sorts, with an estimated 7,000 breweries turning out locally-brewed beer in the United States.

“That’s kind of the way it was before prohibition. I think we’re going back toward that,” Odeneal said. “I think that is the direction we’re heading, this hyper-local model.”

That hyper-local model is being celebrated during Pensacola Beer Week, which will conclude Sept. 6 with the 2019 Emerald Coast Beer Festival. In addition to beers brewed at Pensacola establishments, the festival will offer the opportunity to taste beers from around the region as well as a deep collection of homebrews.

A Rising Tide
The Emerald Coast Beer Festival is expected to be larger than ever this year. It’s attracting breweries from throughout the Southeast and beyond.

“I think pretty much everyone on the Gulf Coast is coming, from Big Beach in Gulf Shores to Oyster City in Apalachicola,” said April King, who sits on the EBHC board and is helping to organize the festival.

The festival wasn’t always an affair of such a grand scale. It started off modestly inhabiting a nook of Seville Quarter and grew over the years to encompass the entire complex. Martin pegs the inaugural attendance at under 200, while last year’s crowd numbered about 2,300.

“So, we’ve come a long way,” he said.

Martin traces the beer festival’s roots to monthly gatherings the homebrewers club held to try each other’s beer.

“Everybody would bring something and we’d share,” he recalled.

Back then in Pensacola, there wasn’t much in the way of craft beer.

“There wasn’t much on draft you could find that was craft beer. It was mostly European,” King said. “You’d find a lot of Bass and Guinness, some Sierra Nevada, maybe some Sam Adams.”

“I remember you were really lucky when you could find Sierra Nevada,” Martin said.

Slowly that began change. Craft brews from smaller breweries began showing up in the store. The Cigar Brewery expanded the area’s selection of craft beers on tap, as did Hopjack’s, with its seemingly overwhelming wealth of selection.

Except for the brewing operation at McGuire’s Irish Pub, which has been going since the mid-‘80s, there wasn’t any locally-brewed craft beer in the area. That would change in 2010 with the introduction of the Pensacola Bay Brewery.

“The second wave of the craft explosion was just getting started,” Mark Robertson, brewmaster and co-owner of Pensacola Bay Brewery, put the establishment’s founding into a national context.

From their location hugging a southern corner of Seville Square, the brewery began putting out a stable of staples—from porters to pale ales, with names like DeLuna, DeSoto and Riptide—and blanketing the historic district with the distinct smell of beer being conjured into existence.

In the years following, the Pensacola area has seen one brewery after another emerge. Downtown now has several, and there are a number of establishments out in Escambia County.

Odeneal got involved with Perfect Plain when he got a call from his soon-to-be partner, D.C. Reeves, who wanted to open a brewery in Pensacola. Reeves had scouted Odeneal in Asheville, N.C., the Southeast’s craft beer Mecca.

“I never expected to be in Pensacola,” Odeneal said, adding that he could tell upon arrival the city was evolving and had the appetite for an additional brewery. “You could just tell it’s on the upswing, a rapid upswing.”

With the addition of each additional brewery, the fellowship of local brewers grows and with it a spirit of cooperation and community.

“We help each other out,” Robertson said, explaining that one establishment might come to the rescue when another runs short on a particular ingredient. “We get together in bars and talk about beer.”

Odeneal said he appreciates this collaborative nature of the industry and feels it benefits the overall community.

“Craft beer is still so young, you can’t afford not to be,” he said. “What’s the phrase? A rising tide lifts all ships.”

As part of Pensacola Beer Week, local brewers got together and dreamed up a collective brew. The beer was brewed at Pensacola Bay Brewery—“It just made sense to do it over there; they’re the OGs,” said Odeneal —and will be available at the various local breweries throughout the week.

“That was a lot of fun. It was kind of surreal, sitting in a room together with all the other brewers talking about the beer we were going to brew together,” Odeneal said. “We all kind of pooled our ideas together.”

Pensacola’s brewers ended up producing an American Pale Ale for the occasion.

“It’s got a dank, piney, citrusy taste with a nice earthy, citrusy nose,” said Robertson. “It’s a pretty good beer, actually.”

Another Round
Surveying the Pensacola area’s growing number of breweries participating in the annual beer festival, King won’t say which is her favorite. She’s just glad they all brew a stout.

“I like all of the breweries,” she said. “I think all of the Pensacola breweries bring something unique to the craft beer scene.”

Maintaining this individuality, or uniqueness, is key, the homebrewers club member said, to Pensacola’s healthy brewery community.

“Our breweries aren’t stepping on one another’s toes insofar as style,” she said. “Everybody’s kind of doing their own style, and you don’t just have a bunch of pale ales being brewed everywhere.”

Likely because of this field of varied styles, the notion of market saturation doesn’t appear to be in play. In other words, the addition of a new brewery has not resulted in a drawdown on an existing brewery’s business.

“They’re all flourishing as far as I can tell,” Martin said. “They have their own little groups of people, and they don’t get smaller; they just grow and grow.”

Before next year’s craft beer week and Emerald Coast Beer Festival roll around, Pensacola will have even more breweries. Among them will be the Emerald Republic Brewing Company, which is set to open downtown this fall.

“I thought that I could bring something really unique to Pensacola,” said Phil Zayas, who moved to the area from Texas after completing the Master Brewers program at the University of California Davis.

Another new addition coming downtown this fall will be Odd Colony Brewing Company. Before launching the brewery, Brett Schweigert asked himself a question.

“The question was, what can we provide to this beer scene that is unique, different and true to our roots,” he said.

Schweigert, who grew up in Pensacola, moved to Asheville a few years back with intentions to explore the craft of brewing. He ended up getting a position with a brewery and subsequently tapped by Odeneal to return home and help with Perfect Plain.

More recently, a friend Schweigert has known since middle school hit him up with a proposition to open his own brewery. And he’s pretty confident Pensacola can take on at least one more.

“As long as you’re providing a quality product,” the brewer said, “I think the market will be receptive.”

WHEN: 5:30-8:30 p.m., Friday Sept. 6
WHERE: Seville Quarter, 130 E. Government St.
COST: $30 in advance, $40 at event

WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 1-Sunday, Sept. 8

For more details and event announcements, make sure you check out these local breweries:

A Little Madness Brewing Company

Alga Beer Co.

Big Top Brewing Company Pensacola

Coastal County Brewing Company

Emerald Republic Brewing

Gary’s Brewery & Biergarten

Goat Lips Chew and Brewhouse

Gulf Coast Brewery

Odd Colony Brewing Co.

Pensacola Bay Brewery

Perfect Plain Brewing Co.

Spahr Brewing Company